Hans Guggisberg: A Four Points favorite
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — During a sunny Saturday on the west side of Steamboat Resort, most skiers and boarders headed toward Storm Peak Express. They sought the steeper terrain and tree runs accessible only from the top of the lift.
A few guests streamed to Four Points, a lift that runs at about half the speed and distance of Storm Peak, the more popular of the two lifts.
Those who chose Four Points were greeted by a cheery, ruddy-cheeked lift operator, the same man who has been working that lift for the past 10 winter seasons.
“Come on out — shuffle, shuffle,” the operator said, waving in an incoming group of skiers to the loading ramp.
Many know him by name. One skier even called him a legend.
“You’re the best, Hans!” the man said as the chair lifted him and his skis up the mountain.
“Have fun out there,” lift operator Hans Guggisberg replied, his teeth shining through a smile that rarely fades.
Over the past decade, Guggisberg has become a beloved face at Four Points. He never intended to work as a liftie, but a Swiss lottery allowed him to leave a lifelong career and travel to the U.S. Since then, he has found that seasonal jobs offer a freedom that he doesn’t plan on squashing anytime soon.
Guggisberg was born and raised in Belp, Switzerland — a small municipality south of Bern, the country’s capital. He grew up speaking mostly German, owing to a gruff accent that hasn’t eroded after a decade in the U.S.
At 20, he joined the Swiss Army as part of the country’s required military service. For 17 weeks, he learned to operate army trucks and trained for combat. Fortunately, he hasn’t had to use any of that training, but the army did teach him the value of tidiness and precision.
He applied those values to his post-military career as an architect. For almost 30 years, he designed buildings for towns near the German border.
After such a regimented life, Guggisberg suddenly let fate guide his retirement years. He applied to and won a green card to the U.S. in a Swiss lottery. With no job prospects or local contacts, he flew to California.
Guggisberg wanted to find work as an architect, but the 2008 housing crisis and resulting recession eliminated any job prospects in the industry. He took English classes in San Diego during his first months. Still, he couldn’t get hired.
Unperturbed, Guggisberg headed north — first along the Pacific Northwest, then through Canada to Alaska. Someone along the way recommended that he apply for seasonal jobs. He sent applications to ski resorts in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado.
Steamboat was the first resort to offer him a job, so he took it.
Life on the road
Now 62, Guggisberg has not settled down with a wife or any children. He has picked up a girlfriend every now and then but could never commit to marriage. Fewer responsibilities means more freedom to travel, which he does throughout the year.
After the winter season ends in April, Guggisberg ventures north to Alaska to work as a shuttle driver for a lodge near Denali National Park. He enjoys the off-weeks between jobs when he can explore forests in British Columbia or hot springs in the Yukon.
Tourists tend to be sparser in those periods, and Guggisberg appreciates the solitude.
“You can have the whole road to yourself,” he said.
That mentality also helps explain why he has always worked at Four Points. On slow days, one guest may come through every 10 minutes. His lift may not be the most popular, but Guggisberg likes it that way.
“Mostly locals come through,” he said. “They’re always happy to see me here.”
Come spring, some guests will even hand him tips, sometimes as much as $50.
Deb Werner, Steamboat’s director of lift operations and sister-in-law to the famous Buddy Werner, has been Guggisberg’s boss for the 10 seasons he has worked at the resort. She said Guggisberg is not only a beloved worker but also a snow architect.
Every winter, Guggisberg collects a large pile of snow next to the Four Points loading ramp. When the pile gets large enough, he slowly, meticulously carves it into a structure. Among his favorite creations are a fortress and a giant, brick-looking fireplace.
“He always does an amazing job on the snow sculpture contest,” she said, referring to the mountain’s annual competition during Winter Carnival. The next carnival kicks off Feb. 6, but Guggisberg wouldn’t reveal his idea for this year’s sculpture.
“That’s the old architect in him,” Connor O’Keefe, Steamboat Resort’s midmountain supervisor, said about Guggisberg’s snow creations. O’Keefe has worked with Guggisberg for the past two seasons and mentioned his uncanny attention to detail.
“If it’s not perfect, then it’s not finished,” O’Keefe said not just about Guggisberg’s sculptures, but his general work ethic.
After a 15-minute break from loading people onto chairs, Hans stepped out into the sunshine and greeted a slow trickle of guests.
“Hi Hans!” one woman shouted as he eased the chair around the ramp for her.
A bright smile split across his face.
Before she traveled out of earshot, he called out, “Have fun out there.”
Even if she doesn’t, Hans surely will.
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Routt County voters will have the option to elect new school board members, city and town council members and choose whether or not to support three state ballot initiatives in the Nov. 2 election.